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BMW 5 Series


BMW’s new five series is an iconic fixture of the brand’s executive offerings and the new one has won the praise of local media. Steve Vermeulen sees what the song and dance is about.

New Zealand’s Motoring Writer’s Guild is a fraternity that, if I’m honest, I have mixed feelings about. Some I’ll be eternally grateful to for mentoring my fledging career and have become good friends, others you couldn’t trust for an impartial review of the time. Nevertheless, I do see eye to eye with the group as a whole on one thing at least: their recently announced choice of the BMW 5 Series as Car of the Year 2010.

BMW is no stranger to occasionally unjustified pedestaling by media, but the latest 5 Series is every bit a deserving recipient of praise. I’ve just handed back the keys to a 550i petrol V8 variant, and my gripes seem almost trivial compared with all the things this car does right.

Unlike a lot of executive sedans, the five’s styling offers a few dynamic details with a more fluid body shape and stylised tail lights. It’s hardly a stand-out-of-the-crowd kind of car, but is suitably sympathetic to both the suits that buy them and design enthusiasts that aspire to.

In reality it makes BMW’s flagship 7 Series model feel a bit redundant. Unless you’re a head of state the acres of rear-seat luxury really is a bit over the top, and the lengthy wheelbase reduces fun through tight Kiwi back roads. By comparison, you could hardly complain about the occupant comfort offered in the 5 Series with space, rich leather and impeccable interior finish throughout, but there’s also more focus on the drive, rather than being driven in this car.

The 550i boasts a lightweight but potent 4.4-litre V8 that develops 300kW and a massive 600Nm of torque, to speed the car to 100km in a flat five seconds. That’s plenty fast enough for a car of this size and stature. And even if the brand’s appeal isn’t evident from casting an eye over cars like the 550, it all quickly makes sense when you drive one.

There’s a distinct pleasure derived from BMW’s fastidious attention to both drivetrain and chassis, one that isn’t even closely replicated by its Audi and Mercedes rivals. Yes, the eight-speed transmission has crossed the line where the pursuit of refinement and economy start to dull the drama of the drive, but the car rewards with an accuracy and balance that is a clear standout within the world of large exec expresses.

Among the $27,510 list of options our tester was equipped with was the adaptive drive system ($7450), which instinctively reacts to cornering forces to maximise grip and handling, and the Electronic Damper Control ($3300) to switch between sport, comfort or normal settings. To be honest, the core suspension geometry and rigidity of the car is good enough to justify some skimping on electronics here. You can feel both systems at work if you’re paying attention, but on the whole I suspect they overcomplicate an already superb set-up. On any other day I’d direct similar critique toward the optional active steering ($3000), but for an electronic system this one actually feels suitably convincing.

There are a few must haves on the option list, including the awesome 360 bird’s-eye ‘Surround View’ reversing aid ($1750), blind spot and lane deviation warnings, satin chrome interior trim and active cruise control. But importantly, the 5 Series remains a showcase for BMW innovation straight out of the box.

Standard features include the best head’s up display in the business, which unobtrusively projects speed, cruise and sat-nav info in your field of vision, as well as adaptive headlights that arc around corners and automatically alternate between high and low beam with traffic, heated and ventilated front seating, voice control for climate, audio and phone functions and, naturally, the full compliment of leading safety technology.

For all this, perhaps the latest five’s real achievement is that it remains refreshingly unintimidating to drive; your nana would be comfortable in taking the wheel and still operating all the key functions.

Don’t think of it as a luxury car, or a driver’s car, or a family car. These impart a sense of ability in one area and deficits in another, when the reality is the 550i is all of the above and it genuinely is deserving of every accolade it receives.

See the BMW 550i for sale.

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